Showcasing a tapestry of talent, it’s been a good run for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s Directors’ Cuts season. Their series of four plays at the Brewery Theatre wraps up with the highly unusual The Boy on the Swing, a homage to the capitalisation of just about everything in the 21st Century.
I once bought a candle in a shop in Catholic Spain, solely because it had an image of Jesus Christ printed onto the plastic casing, hands outstretched, halo blazing and, right beside him, the biggest barcode you’ve ever seen. In fact it was the same size as the image. This evidence of the commercialisation of religion was too tempting to leave on the shelf – I had to take him home to show my friends.
And this is pretty much the premise of The Boy on the Swing. After finding a curious business card inviting him to talk to God, production line factory manager Earl Hunt, an everyday sort of a bloke, throws cautions to the wind and dials the number on the card. This one action catapults him to a series of odd encounters with the staff at The Hope and Trust Foundation, and we follow his dizzying path as he jumps through various hoops on his way to meet the Boss, the man at the top, God himself.
Joe Harbot’s play is a true satire. It’s remarkable in its originality and Director Laura Jasper has given a handful of BOVTS actors something extra delicious to get their teeth into. Each character is as refreshing as the one before.
Harry Egan’s Lancashire Jim the Salesman is manic and, although he is responsible for reeling the clients in, he admits that he’s never actually met God, even though, as Earl points out, he must have bumped into him because even God has a coffee break. Jim’s not bothered anyway; he’s an atheist, just an employee who doesn’t even believe in the product he sells so convincingly. Egan is funny and his looks of despair and/or incredulity to the invisible camera in the corner of The Reception are very well placed.
Next up is Donald, played by Karl Wilson, the shiny, suited and booted one, who is there to close the deal and to convince Earl that he really, desperately needs this encounter, lonely and unfulfilled as his life has become. Wilson’s character is every overbearing sales rep you’ve wanted to slap, every greedy company you’ve ever wanted to see go into liquidation. A meeting with God will cost Earl a good deal of cash but, insists Donald, “It’s not about the money!” Argh!!!!
And then, oh yes, William, the last port of call before God himself can make an appearance. Dominic Allen reminds me heavily of James Dreyfus’ camp and highly strung character in the TV series, Gimme Gimme Gimme. As we watch William engage Earl in an orgy of pointless games, I have to remember to breathe out the stress levels he’s in danger of piling on top of me with his frenzied and, ultimately, sadistic persona.
In the middle of all this is the unfortunate Earl, played by Peter Edwards. Earl isn’t even a believer and you can tell he’s more bored with life than anything. Edwards is terrific in his mild bemusement of the situation he seems to have placed himself in as, with subtlety, he watches events unfold before him, able to influence the outcome, maybe, free to back out at any point, perhaps.
But does he actually get to meet his maker? You really should go to the Brewery Theatre and find out for yourself.
– The Boy on the Swing shows at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 23rd May